soybean field

Did You Know that U.S. Soy is Verified Sustainable?

An initiative launched in 2014 helps international food and feed companies source sustainable soy for their ingredient and product portfolios.

If you think the world has reached the climax when it comes to discussions around sustainability, think again. While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and U.S. President Joe Biden invited world leaders to a Summit on Climate here at the end of the month, many believe we are just scratching the surface of what’s to come when looking at sustainability efforts and initiatives.

And companies aren’t wasting any time. Since 2005, the Canadian research firm Corporate Knights has compiled a list of the top 100 organizations that embrace sustainable business practices.

“The big take away when looking at … the companies doing well is how fast the pace is speeding up in terms of the growth in green, clean markets,” said Toby Heaps, cofounder and CEO of Corporate Knights, in an interview with Forbes. “In this age of climate and carbon constraints and an emerging climate economy, these companies are positioned to succeed.”

Couple that with the fact that 90% of S&P 500 Index companies published sustainability reports in 2019, and one can see that sustainability and operating in a nature-positive way is top of mind for both companies and their customers.

What might be surprising to some is international buyers of U.S. Soy have the opportunity to request verification of the sustainability of U.S. soy through the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP). The verification is provided by a certificate of sustainability associated with exported shipments of U.S. soy.

SSAP Makes Sourcing Sustainable Soy Simple

Ingredient merchandisers and managers responsible for sourcing sustainable ingredients can rest easy knowing they have a go-to source for soy.

SSAP is widely recognized and positively benchmarked against the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) 2015 Soy-Sourcing Guidelines, the Consumer Goods Forum, the Tokyo Olympic Procurement Committee, and the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices.

In 2014, just 6,845 metric tons were shipped with an SSAP certificate. Rinne reports the need for and adoption of SSAP has grown exponentially since its inception with 64 U.S. exporters issuing SSAP certificates for 23.3 million metric tons of soy today.

In fact, USSEC’s reporting shows that the regions of Europe, Northeast Asia and the Americas request an SSAP certificate for nearly 100% of their purchases.

“Some of our buyers use sustainably-sourced soy as a way to distinguish their products against competitors,” Rinne said. “The opportunity to use a trademarked ‘Sustainable U.S. Soy' logo on their packaging is offered to companies that use sustainable U.S. Soy in their products (verified through the SSAP).

Rinne noted 30 companies use the logo on over 550 products as a way to highlight products that contain Sustainable U.S. Soy.

The Sustainable U.S. Soy logo, used on more than 550 products, helps companies differentiate themselves from the competition in the international marketplace.

Sustainability Starts on the Farm

While sustainability is a relatively new concept for brands and companies, U.S. soy farmer’s dedication to sustainability is not. Since 1980, U.S. farmers have increased soy production by 96%, while using 8% less energy and decreasing soil erosion by 66% per ton of U.S. soy production, according to statistics from Field to Market.

SSAP verifies shipments of U.S. Soy as sustainable based on a national system of sustainability and conservation laws and regulations combined with careful implementation of best production practices by the nation’s soybean producers.

Every farmer participating in the U.S. Farm Program provides documentation of compliance each year and are subject to on-farm audits. It’s through this data that the amount of sustainable U.S. Soy is calculated.

SSAP hinges on four directives, each with control measures and regulations. These directives are: 

  • Biodiversity and high carbon stock. To enhance biodiversity, soybeans are not produced in wetlands, grasslands, forests and other designated protected areas. 
  • Production practices. Production practices work to enhance the environment as well as protect natural resources, while increasing production efficiency. 
  • Public and labor health and welfare. U.S. laws provide protection of the public and its workers. This is where we seek to enforce fair labor standards, equal employment opportunity, abolition of forced labor and clean water laws, to name a few. 
  • Continuous improvement. Sustainability is more than a result; it’s a process. Each year, U.S. Soy farmers work to become even more efficient and environmentally sound. 

The important thing to note is that it’s not a target to hit and then a check off the list. Sustainability is a journey, explained Rinne – one of continuous improvement.

“While we believe SSAP to be a gold standard in the industry, it’s our hope these practices set U.S. Soy apart as a leader in the global effort to produce sustainable and reliable sources of food,” she said. “The efforts made to protect valuable environmental resources and farming operations for the next generation are never over.”

Looking forward, by the year 2025, U.S. soybean farmers aim to:

  • Reduce land impact by 10%.
  • Reduce soil erosion by an additional 25%.
  • Increase energy efficiency by 10% of BTUs used per ton.
  • Reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

“It is through the SSAP’s quantifiable and results-driven approach that farmers of U.S. Soy are successful in their determination to ensure an increasingly sustainable product for the future,” Rinne said. “The story of continuous improvement for U.S. Soy is no accident, but the result of a relentless pursuit by our farmers.”